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Isle car dealers besieged by calls about air bag flaw

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    A palm tree is seen behind a Toyota sign at Earl Stewart Toyota in North Palm Beach, Fla. Toyota is recalling 247,000 vehicles in high-humidity areas, including Hawaii, as an air bag problem that has plagued most of the auto industry continues to widen.

Dealerships across Oahu reported getting scores of calls Tuesday from concerned car owners wondering whether they needed to bring in their vehicles for repairs, a day after federal regulators issued a warning that a bevy of cars in humid areas such as Hawaii could be at risk for defective, potentially dangerous air bags.

"I can’t even count. The phones are going crazy," Tony Group Autoplex call operator Jojo Bocobo said Tuesday of owner inquiries about the airbags in their Nissans and Hondas.

More than a dozen of those two brands’ models from 2001 to 2007 were flagged by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Monday as potentially at risk due to faulty inflaters in the air bags made by Takata Corp.

Other car brands flagged by the NHTSA are Toyota, Mazda, BMW and General Motors, Subaru, Chrysler, Ford and Mitsu­bi­shi.

Currently the earliest appointments to bring affected vehicles into the Wai­pahu Autoplex are about two weeks away, Bocobo said.

Meanwhile, many consumers in Hawaii and abroad were left Tuesday grasping for answers. A link from the NHTSA website that lets owners look up their car by vehicle identification number did not respond all day ( Calls to an operator on the agency’s hotline — 888-327-4236 — were routinely put on hold.

Daniel Gluck, a civil rights lawyer from Hono­lulu, said his To­yota dealership’s designated repair shop, Motor Imports To­yota, had said there was a 90-day backlog for the parts to replace the air bag on his 2003 Corolla.

Gluck, who has two children, said the shop had not yet suggested deactivating his air bag, but he welcomed the option.

"I’m surprised that there’s such a long wait for the parts, given the stated urgency of the repair," he said. "To be honest, it’s probably fine, but I’d certainly like to get it fixed."

Gluck’s dealership was overwhelmed with calls Tuesday.

"It has been super busy — started yesterday, nonstop, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.," said Janelle Castro, who works in the dealership’s customer care center. "I’m going to say that if we take in 1,000 calls a day, maybe 900 of them are recalls."

BMW of Honolulu also reported an influx of airbag-related inquiries. "We had a higher volume of calls today than normal. We are trying to get through this recall as quickly as possible," said Mike Tetsu­tani, service and parts director at the Hono­lulu dealership.

David J. Friedman, deputy administrator at the NHTSA, said that it decided to issue the warning Monday after receiving test results from Takata on returned air bags in recent days, and out of concern that owners were not getting their cars fixed.

A faulty propellant inside air bags is unstable and can explode, sending metal shards flying into the cabin. The defect has been linked to at least three deaths and more than 100 injuries.

In all, more than 14 million vehicles from 11 automakers have been recalled for the defect, most in the past two years.

Officials with Toyota Hawaii have recommended that those with potentially affected cars not allow anyone to sit in the front passenger seat until the air bags are fixed.


Vehicles in the 2013 and 2014 recalls involving Takata airbags:

778,177 potentially affected vehicles

>> 2002-2004 Lexus SC
>> 2003-2004 Toyota Corolla
>> 2003-2004 Toyota Corolla Matrix
>> 2002-2004 Toyota Sequoia
>> 2003-2004 Toyota Tundra
>> 2003-2004 Pontiac Vibe

18,050 potentially affected vehicles

>> 2003-2004 Mazda6
>> 2004 Mazda RX-8

437,712 potentially affected vehicles

>> 2001-2003 Nissan Maxima
>> 2001-2003 Nissan Pathfinder
>> 2002-2003 Nissan Sentra
>> 2001-2003 Infiniti I30/I35
>> 2002-2003 Infiniti QX4
>> 2003 Infiniti FX

573,935 potentially affected vehicles

>> 2000-2005 3 Series Sedan
>> 2000-2006 3 Series Coupe
>> 2000-2005 3 Series Sports Wagon
>> 2000-2006 3 Series Convertible
>> 2001-2006 M3 Coupe
>> 2001-2006 M3 Convertible

133,221 potentially affected vehicles

>> 2002-2003 Buick LeSabre
>> 2002-2003 Buick Rendezvous
>> 2002-2003 Cadillac DeVille
>> 2002-2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer
>> 2002-2003 Chevrolet Impala
>> 2002-2003 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
>> 2002-2003 Chevrolet Venture
>> 2002-2003 GMC Envoy
>> 2002-2003 GMC Envoy XL
>> 2002-2003 Oldsmobile Aurora
>> 2002-2003 Oldsmobile Bravada
>> 2002-2003 Oldsmobile Silhouette
>> 2002-2003 Pontiac Bonneville
>> 2002-2003 Pontiac Montana

2,803,214 potentially affected vehicles

>> 2001-2007 Honda Accord (4 cyl)
>> 2001-2002 Honda Accord (6 cyl)
>> 2001-2005 Honda Civic
>> 2002-2006 Honda CR-V
>> 2003-2011 Honda Element
>> 2002-2004 Honda Odyssey
>> 2003-2007 Honda Pilot
>> 2006 Honda Ridgeline
>> 2003-2006 Acura MDX
>> 2002-2003 Acura TL/CL


The New York Times contributed to this report.

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